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Giving a Free Card

Giving a free card means checking a hand you could have bet when there are more cards to come. Of course, when you check with the intention of raising, you are giving a free card only when your opponent is so uncooperative as not to bet into you.

When you know or are pretty sure you have the best hand, you have to decide whether or not to give your opponent a free card. We saw in the last page that it is almost never correct to give a free card when the pot is large. It turns out that it is rarely correct to give a free card with medium-sized pots, even when you know your opponent will fold if you bet. You simply have to be satisfied with what there is in the pot already. One reason you should bet is that generally you want your opponent to fold.

If there is, let's say, $50 in the pot and you bet $10, your opponent is getting 6-to-1 odds. As a 5-to-1 underdog, he should call. As we have seen in earlier pages, any opponent who doesn't take the odds when he has the best of it is losing money. Therefore, you have gained when that person folds.

However, the principle of not giving a free card goes even further. If your opponent is a 9-to-1 underdog, getting 6-to-1 odds, you should still bet. In this case, you hope that opponent calls, but you don't mind when he folds. His folding is better than your giving him a free 10 percent chance to make his hand and beat you. As we saw in the last page, giving a free card is equivalent to giving a person infinite odds on that betting round. That person needs to make a zero investment for a chance to win whatever is in the pot.

Suppose, going into the last card in seven-card stud, you think a player has a gut-shot draw to a straight, and you have three-of-a-kind. Your opponent is at least a 10-to-1 underdog to make the straight, and even if he hits, you may make a full house. So you're a big favorite to win the hand. Nevertheless, it is still better that you bet and force your opponent to fold than that you check and he check behind you. By checking you are giving your opponent a free shot at beating you, a chance he would not have if you had bet.

When you are not so big a favorite, it is even more important to bet rather than give a free card.

Let's say you have 8? and 7? In hold 'em, and the flop comes up three spades. With a modest pot you should come out betting even though you expect everybody will fold because you can't let somebody with, say, a lone 104 get a free shot at a higher flush. You might not want the person to fold when you bet, but making him fold is better than giving him a free chance to outdraw you. (The only time you might check your flush is if the pot is so small you expect to gain more through deception. Thus, if no spades fall after the flop, your profits on later bets are likely to be considerably larger than what you would gain by betting on the flop. However, if another spade does come, you have to be prepared to fold.)

When you have a chance to bet and you have a decent hand, especially a hand you think is the best one, it is almost always correct to bet. The only conditions that might make it incorrect to bet are the following:

The pot is small in comparison to what it might be in the future and you figure to gain more in future bets through deception than by giving your hand away now; this situation occurs most often in pot-limit and no-limit games.
You think you can get in a check-raise.
Your hand is so strong it's worth giving a free card even with a medium-sized pot.


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